Story Magazine - First Quarter, 2002
by Sheri Booms, director of publications
Imagine if every day you used your God-given talents--doing the stuff you really love to do--at work, at home, in church and in the community.
Now, imagine if your congregation was a resource for discerning such talents, and preparing you for the ministry to which you've been called. Maybe you have artistic gifts that have gone untapped. Perhaps your love for children and the energy you derive being with them are potential driving forces toward a satisfying career. It could be you just need to learn to use your gifts to become the very best carpenter, manager, baker, writer, father, mother, (you name it!) you can be.
It's astounding to consider the possibilities, and liberating, too. You would become free to carry out God's plan for you.
Luther Seminary, in collaboration with Aid Association for Lutherans/Lutheran Brotherhood, wants to help make this dream a reality through a new initiative: CenteredLife-CenteredWorksm. CenteredLife-CenteredWork (CL-CW) is part of Luther Seminary's Center for Lifelong Learning, which includes KAIROS and Koinonia continuing education and the Lay School of Theology. Executive Director Jack Fortin leads the CL-CW team made up of Barb Gaiser, program manager, and Sally Peters, pilot project director.
CenteredLife-CenteredWork is currently in an 24-month pilot phase assessing 40 congregations. Its 10-year goal: to help 10,000 congregations attend to their calling to be places where people gather, are cared for, equipped for ministry, and scattered to live out whatever God has called them to, both personally and corporately.
A deep yearning
A whopping 10,000 churches in 10 years may seem like a lofty aspiration, but not to Fortin. As he sees it, and as research has shown, people are hungry to find ways to connect their faith with their daily lives.
Type in "spirituality and business" in your Web browser and you'll find as many as 1,500 listings.*
This doesn't surprise Fortin. He sees a trend--people, mostly over 40, who are finding that "business as usual" just doesn't cut it any more.
"Bob Buford, who has written a book called Halftime, says that we spend the first half of our lives in our culture striving for success and the second half striving for the significance we never found because we were working too hard for success," Fortin said.
Tough questions of faith play out day in and day out in our daily work, but rarely is there a flow from Sunday to Monday and Monday to Sunday, he continued.
Instead, people find their lives compartmentalized, each part isolated from the other. "There's a deep, deep yearning for people to pull together their lives at work, at home, at church and at play."
In the midst of this search, says Laura Nash in *Church on Sunday, Work on Monday, they are particularly drawn to spirituality in its many forms, hoping for self-awareness, meaning, moral goodness and effectiveness in their vocational activities. Unfortunately, people are not turning to the congregation for help but "are making it up as they go along, relying on authorities outside their religious tradition, and hoping for a cognitive leap of faith between these frameworks and their religious beliefs."
Traditional mainstream religion appears to have failed to deliver on the desire for experiential personalized ways of knowing God in one's work, Nash writes. "And so these folks are looking for ways to live their Christian beliefs and values at work as they do at home and at church, and yet when they look to the church for guidance, they often find one of two responses: clergy who are indifferent to the idea or, more specifically, are wildly interested, but stumped as to how to begin."
"If ever there was a time for Lutherans to step up to the plate, it's now," said Fortin. "People are taking a little bit of other faiths to fashion a belief system that encompasses their whole life.
"But here we are, a theology that specifically speaks to this notion of the priesthood of all believers, that all are called. We all have an opportunity to serve God. We all have a birthright gift built within us, says Parker Palmer, that needs to get out, that wants to be released, to get the freedom to serve in a way that we, as individuals, when we're in the midst of our calling, feel we're in the groove.
"My question is: How can congregations better resource to equip and send members into the world? How can we equip the young so they're not spending the second half of their life trying to find the significance they may not have found in the first half?"
Born out of Luther Seminary's strategic plan
A lot of thought went into the creation of CenteredLife-CenteredWork.
Luther Seminary spent two years of prayerful consideration, seeking the counsel of laypeople, alumni/ae, board members, pastors, faculty, staff and students in developing its current five-year strategic plan. The plan called for a vision for Luther Seminary to "function as a missional community by increasing the capacity of congregations to help their members discover their calling and gifts in order to live faithfully in their daily lives."
A former Luther Seminary board member, Fortin was called to become the executive director when it became clear his vision and Luther Seminary's were the same: to equip and inspire the people of God for personal vocations and ministry lived out in their workplaces, homes, communities and congregations.
Fortin has assembled a team of people with many years of experience in the field of vocational and career development to create tools and resources to aid congregations in helping individuals discern their life callings.
So, how does CL-CW work?
Congregations working with CenteredLife-CenteredWork begin in an assessment phase. Members are invited to participate in a survey that measures how they view their church's efforts to equip them for the world. A facilitator trained at the Center for Lifelong Learning administers the assessment tool.
The leadership of the congregation and the CL-CW staff then use the results to choose resources and create experiences that will help unlock the personal and organizational callings of everyone in the congregation.
The CL-CW staff is quick to point out that CenteredLife-CenteredWork is not the next new "program."
"My sense is that it's not revolutionary, but evolutionary," said
Sally Peters, who, as project leader, administers the survey.
It has to have sustainability or it won't be effective, she continued. "It's a change in focus. It's not about bringing people into the church. It's about equipping and sending people out.
"Ministry should be seven days a week in the lives of all in the congregation. That's about change, that's not a program," she said.
Peters has found that for congregations, taking the survey is an education in itself. "As I talk about it, I see a light go on. For some there is a revelation that that they are truly called. For others it is an affirmation of what they are already doing."
The pilot congregations have quickly recognized the need to dig into the assessment data to uncover what it means specifically for the congregation, Peters said.
For example, the assessment may show that members don't know each other very well. The first step in ministry in daily life may be to find out parishioners' vocations, then encourage people with like vocations and interests to create small sharing groups.
The assessment looks at areas of strength as well as growth. Peters recommends congregations use this information to build on their strengths.
"So, if worship is a strength, then, how do they use worship to talk about vocation?" she said.
"I don't think [examining the data] needs to be rushed--it needs to be considered. It's about taking the next step. Making it a part of who they already are."
By June of 2003, the CL-CW staff will have the results of the 40-congregation pilot stage well in hand and will be ready to expand to other interested congregations.
Learn more, visit the CL-CW Web site
To learn more about the the entire CenteredLife-CenteredWork process, find out about upcoming events, and resources to read up on ministry in daily life, visit the CL-CW Web site at